Does Oregon Have a Cap on Punitive Damages?

When a person becomes injured in an accident, they may have a right to bring a lawsuit against the person who caused their injuries. The person filing a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff has a right to pursue several different types of damages — economic, non-economic, and punitive. 

Punitive damages are best described as compensation for a personal injury victim intended to punish the person who caused their injuries. The state of Oregon does allow plaintiffs to pursue punitive damages. However, a plaintiff needs to prove specific elements to obtain punitive damages, and Oregon has some unique rules about how they divided up punitive damages.

 

The Definition of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are considered compensation for personal injury victims. The goal of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer and act as a deterrent for other people who may engage in similar wrongdoing. Awarding punitive damages is a way to signal to others that the type of behavior the defendant engaged in is unacceptable. If they engaged in similar activity, they would be punished financially.

Oregon does allow personal injury victims to be awarded punitive damages in civil lawsuits. However, punitive damages are not as common as one might think. Most personal injury claims do not result in the plaintiff recovering punitive damages. Proving the elements required to recover punitive damages can be difficult. A plaintiff can only seek punitive damages in Oregon when the defendant’s behavior was particularly egregious, intentional, or socially unacceptable. 

There are many appellate court rulings about punitive damages and when courts may and may not award them. Some of the most common behaviors that cause injuries resulting in punitive damages awards include driving while intoxicated, assault, battery, and other types of reckless driving.

 

How are Punitive Damages Different From Other Types of Damages?

There are several different ways that punitive damages are different from other types of damages. The main two types of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit are economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to easily quantifiable damages. Medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost income, lost ability to earn a wage, and property damage are all economic damages that the plaintiff can recover in a personal injury lawsuit.

Non-economic damages are damages for a victim’s pain, suffering, and emotional anguish indoors because of the personal injury accident. Oregon does have a limit on non-economic damages for pain and suffering. However, the Supreme Court has recently struck down this limit. Oregon’s legislature has tried to raise the limit. Remember, non-economic damages for pain and suffering are different from punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are intended to compensate the victim, while punitive damages are intended to punish the offender. 

 

Are Punitive Damages Capped in Oregon?

The answer as to whether Oregon has a cap on punitive damages is somewhat complicated. Courts inside Oregon and even the United States Supreme Court have found that significant punitive damages awards may be unconstitutional. In these types of cases, the amount of punitive damages typically exceeds economic and non-economic compensation. 

For example, the Oregon court of appeals held that a 22.5 million punitive damage award was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. In that case, the court ruled that an award of seven times as much punitive to compensatory damages would be considered unconstitutional. The court reduced the verdict to only 3.5 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in compensatory damages. 

However, in 2015, the Oregon court of appeals reduced a punitive damages award from $125 million to $25 million. In this case, the jury had only awarded the plaintiff $168,514 in compensatory damages. This is a ratio of over 148 in punitive damages to 1 in compensatory damages. Many legal scholars think that the court of appeals allowed the $25 million punitive damage payments because the defendant was the cigarette company Philip Morris and had acted extremely outrageously.

 

The State of Oregon Receives 70% of Punitive Damages

Oregon has a somewhat unusual law that requires 70% of the total punitive damages awarded to a plaintiff to be paid to the state of Oregon. The justification for this law is that punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party, not to compensate the plaintiff. In some cases, injured plaintiffs have avoided paying Oregon their share of the punitive damages. In one case, the state of Oregon tried to speak their share of a punitive damages award. 

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the state was not entitled to payment and that the judgment had not been entered before the settlement plan. In another landmark case, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the state of Oregon could not prevent parties from settling after a verdict. The Supreme Court held that awarding the painting of damages was okay even if the settlement eventually wiped out Oregon’s right to their share of the punitive damages. 

 

Questions About Punitive Damages in Oregon? We Can Help

As mentioned above, understanding Oregon’s punitive damages laws can be complicated. If you have been injured in a personal injury accident and you are wondering how you can recover compensation, the best thing you can do is discuss your case with an attorney. One of the experienced attorneys at DuBois Law Group, LLC, will carefully review your case and advise you of all of your legal options. 

We can also help you understand the different types of damages to which you may be entitled to for your injuries. Personal injury cases are complex. The sooner you reach out to an attorney, the better. Contact the Portland personal injury attorneys at DuBois Law Group, LLC today to schedule your free initial consultation.